You read that right. James Shields is the MVP of the 2018 Chicago White Sox. He finally managed to trend somewhere near(ish) his “Big Game James” days, and continued to provide a veteran presence in the clubhouse.
Innings eating expert
James Shields allowed young White Sox pitchers – starters and relievers alike – to ease their way into the MLB scene and back from injury. There is no metric (yet) that measures how effective and/or helpful a veteran filling up innings is, but saving these stud young arms from working too hard is invaluable. For the first time since 2015, Shields surpassed the 200 inning mark. Despite his late season injury, this helped save Michael Kopech‘s arm until late in the season. It also allowed Carlos Rodon to work his way back from injury, and take some pressure off an ever-changing bullpen.
His traditional numbers weren’t bad
Earlier in the year, I wrote an article detailing what I felt the White Sox needed from James Shields in 2018. Two of those goals were to keep games close and to win ten or so games. He won seven, and he kept games close. How close? Well, according to Buster Olney, as of September 2nd, James Shields ranked fourth in batters faced down one, tied, or leading by one with 446 such instances. That, indeed, is the definition of keeping games close. Plus, a 4.53 ERA holds down a job for many a major-leaguer.
Okay, so metrics weren’t as impressed
Don’t get me wrong, I love advanced metrics. However, I sometimes feel like they tell me things I know deep down but don’t want to admit. In this case, James Shields outperformed his peripherals. I knew he was getting better results than he was actually pitching.
According to Fangraphs, his FIP and xFIP were both 5.09, suggesting some good fortune. His BABIP was also his second lowest career mark of .262, only topped by his 2011 career year. That year, on a playoff-bound Tampa Bay Rays team, Shields was a beast, posting a 16-12 record with 249.1 IP, .258 BABIP, 2.82 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, and a 3rd place finish in AL Cy Young voting. So, James Shields had some good fortune this year, and much like in 2011, he outperformed expectations. And, by the way, outside of a few truly ugly outings, it was a solid year of over-performance.
A steady veteran presence
There’s a reason teams have traded for James Shields in the past: he gets the job done. He always has. Well, not including 2016 and 2017. Traded to the White Sox for then unheralded prospect Fernando Tatis, Jr., Shields was sent to the Southside to provide a veteran presence and ideally solidify the rotation for what seemed at the time like a playoff bound team. It, uh, well, it didn’t quite work out that way.
Tatis blew up into one of the top prospects in the game, and Shields was horrendous. However, Chicago media outlets had him pegged as a clubhouse leader as early as spring training 2017. He was constantly caught on camera talking to the young pitchers, and outside of his comments regarding his focus on winning, not the rebuild, he’s all positives in the clubhouse.
Da real MVP
James Shields won’t be winning a most valuable player award any time soon, but in my own mind, and now potentially in yours, he was the most valuable of White Sox players this year. Sorry, Daniel Palka, I still love you.
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